Crowd-controlled airship to fly at Winter Games

WeBlimp conceptually places observers inside by projecting images snapped by its onboard camera onto a wall-size screen. Navigators can also control where it goes.

Leslie Katz Former Culture Editor
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Leslie Katz

Nathan Waddington, Andrew Thong, and Brian Quan refine their crowd-controlled balloon prior to its showing at an Olympics celebration in Surrey, B.C. Brian Quan

A crowd-controlled blimp created by students at Canada's Simon Frasier University is getting ready for its big date with visitors to the upcoming Winter Games.

Just over 3 feet long, the helium-filled WeBlimp is outfitted with a tiny camera that wirelessly transmits video back to a laptop in the "control room" of the two-room media installation. The little propeller-powered airship, created to explore crowd collaboration in the context of navigation, conceptually places observers inside its attached gondola by projecting images onto a wall-size screen and offering a bird's eye view from the blimp's perspective.

But here's where it really gets fun. Participants, or "pilots," can direct the radio-controlled device by shifting their collective center of gravity, which "tilts" the blimp in the appropriate direction (and hopefully doesn't slam it into too many walls).

Andrew Thong, Anna Wu, Brian Quan, and Nathan Waddington, students at SFU's School of Interactive Arts and Technology, conceived of their balloon for a body interface course last year and since then have been perfecting their creation for its biggest public showing yet. It will be on display in a 20x20-foot tent area at the Olympics celebration site at Surrey's Holland Park from February 17-21.

The students drew the original inspiration for their WeBlimp from the Eye of Kilrogg, a green, disembodied, free-flying eye that World of Warcraft players can control remotely from their characters.

weBlimp! from BdotQ on Vimeo.